Careers in health care have a lot to recommend them. The job openings are plentiful, and spending your day making life better for other people can be pretty satisfying. Although some career choices require a heavy investment in education, that's not always the case. For example, licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) usually only require one year of training to become qualified. It's a rewarding career in its own right, or you can use it as a springboard to other nursing positions.
You have to have at least a high school diploma or GED to be accepted into an LVN training program. They're primarily offered at technical and community colleges, though some large hospitals and care facilities offer comparable educational programs. The curriculum for a licensed vocational nurse, or licensed practical nurse (LPN) as they're known outside of California and Texas, is largely practical. It covers basic anatomy, medical terminology, fundamental computer skills, patient care, and nurses' legal and ethical obligations. Most training programs supplement the classroom instruction with practical hands-on experience in a hospital, clinic or long-term care facility.
Graduating from an approved training program is just the first step. Before you can practice as a nurse, you'll need to pass the national licensing examination for practical nurses, usually abbreviated as the NCLEX-PN. It's offered continuously at Pearson Vue testing locations across the country, so scheduling your exam isn't an issue. It's a multiple-choice test, designed to assess the nurse's understanding of the patient's basic physical, emotional and environmental needs. Candidates who pass are eligible for state licensing, though each state's board of nursing might impose additional requirements.
Successfully passing the NCLEX-PN is the only mandatory form of certification for LVNs, but in some cases earning additional certifications is a good career move. The National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses offers certifications in foot care, elder care and the administration of IVs. The National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES) offers comparable certifications in IV use, pharmacology and long-term care. Some states only permit vocational nurses to administer medications and an IV if they have these certifications. Even when they're not necessary, they send a strong signal to potential employers about your competence and professionalism.
Of course, qualifying as an LVN or LPN is only the first stage of your career. Once you're out in the workplace, you have lots of possible career paths to choose from. LVNs can work in hospitals and outpatient clinics, doctor's offices or home care agencies. Many also work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Although vocational nurses work under the oversight of doctors and registered nurses, you can rise to a supervisory or administrative position on your own merits. If you find that you love nursing, and want a broader range of career options, you can enroll in a streamlined LVN-to-RN program and become a registered nurse.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
- Explore Health Careers: Vocational/Licensed Practical Nurse
- Discover Nursing: Licensed Practical Nurse
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: NCLEX Examinations
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing: NCLEX-PN Examination Test Plan
- National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service: Certifications
- National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses: Certification Programs Offered by NFLPN & the NFLPN Education Foundation
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images